An MG to Remember

MG Magna Barn Find

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Today’s In the Barn story is about the unexpected discovery of a long lost MG. Not just any old MG either. It was written by Kris Palmer and was first publish in The Cobra in the Barn. It is republished here with permission for your enjoyment. Be sure to pick up a copy of the full book through Motorbooks or Amazon. Also, be sure to send in your own find stories because one is going to make it into Tom Cotter’s next book!

Malcolm Appleton has a small collection of older MGs, including two pre-war examples. He loves the simple, robust cars built in this era, and he was always looking for a special car—something rare, something unique. It came to him the way these things often do, in a way he never expected.

At a cocktail party in Stowe, Vermont, Appleton struck up a conversation with a man from Montreal. The man was not obsessed with cars, but because Appleton was, the conversation eventually went in that direction. As Appleton described his MGs, the man listened with some interest, then they parted ways. Appleton then left to attend to some business in England.

When he returned, among his many messages was one from a man whose name he didn’t recognize. He called and it turned out to be the Canadian he’d met in Stowe. This man liked to take walks and had an eye for old cars tucked away. He’d spotted something interesting in a barn-garage. It was an MG, and its owner was interested in selling.

There are a lot of stored MGs, and most are nothing unusual.

“What kind of MG?” Appleton asked.

“It’s a six-cylinder,” the man responded. “A Magna with a ‘boat-tail.’”

When he heard that, Appleton just about fell off his chair. He phoned the seller immediately.

The car’s owner was a Scot who had come to Canada to teach. He hadn’t found the time to restore the car and it appeared he wasn’t going to. It was time to part with it, but he wasn’t going to sell the unique British tourer to just anyone. He told Appleton he wanted to meet him.

Appleton departed promptly for Montreal. When he got there, what he saw would not have impressed everyone. “It was a sad and sorry-looking piece of machinery,” he says. It was up on blocks, where it had been put away twenty-five years earlier. It showed signs of restoration and re-restoration. But Appleton did not see the car with layman’s eyes. He knew MGs well, and he was aware that this was a rare car. The boat-tail coachwork with “dickey seat” was one of few Stiles bodies mated to an MG Magna. Most critical, the car was complete, right down to the original wheels.

The owner was impressed with Appleton’s knowledge and love of MGs. He had already turned down several prospective buyers. They were resellers or people looking for a project to “fix up.” When Appleton said he planned a full restoration, they struck a deal and the car left Canada for its new home in Vermont.

Out of the barn

Auto restoration is a bit like archaeology in that you have to dig down to learn what’s really there. The overhead-cam six-cylinder engine was original and complete, but the head was cracked. Luckily, Appleton’s engine builder found that the motor had been well looked after and it would be a good powerplant once the head was welded up. The radiator needed a new core, but that was to be expected. At least the car included the original grille shell.

The seats had been recovered in black, but the person who did it left the original covers beneath. Though they were unsalvageable, they provided Appleton with exact specifications for new ones. The original seat innards likewise allowed for exact replication in the finished car, which will reuse some of the original seat springs and feature the correct seat padding and contours.

In his research, Appleton tracked down an original Stiles sales brochure. Stiles was a company, like many of the period, that offered custom bodies for cars produced by auto manufacturers. These special bodies had features and color schemes unavailable in the production models. One color scheme described in the Stiles brochure featured a cream-colored chassis with a sky-blue metallic body. Separating the two components, Appleton discovered both colors on his Magna, not only identifying the proper color scheme, but allowing for a proper match of the original paint.

Eventually, other interesting features came to light. Stiles had offered a side-mounted spare tire during this period, which this car did not appear to have. In redoing the car, however, Appleton discovered mounting holes on the side of the car, as well as some of the bracketry. For a self-described restoration fanatic, this meant that the finished car would also wear a side-mounted spare.

The Stiles Magna also has an interesting windshield. Drophead cars of the period, including MGs, often had fold-down windshields for a real open, wind-in-the-hair feel. The Stiles Magna’s windshield is hinged not only at the bottom, to fold down, but also along the top. This allows occupants to push the bottom of the windshield outward for a rush of fresh air even when the car’s soft top is raised.

The body’s aluminum and wood componentry were all there, and the wood—remarkably—was all reusable. Much of the aluminum had corroded beyond rescue, however. What wouldn’t go on the car could at least provide a precise template for new pieces. After a determined search, Appleton found a man in New Hampshire able to make exact reproductions of the needed parts.

A few original pieces were missing—such as the original knockoff wheel spinners—but Appleton tracked down a set in England for the finished car.

Stiles produced only thirty custom-bodied Magnas. Fewer than eight survive. Of these, Appleton’s is the only one in the United States and the most complete and original example in the world. Owners of other cars have contacted him, and even flown to Vermont from Europe, to see Appleton’s Magna for perspective in restoring their own.

Ice racing

Appleton has the original bill of sale from MG, showing that the Magna chassis was to be mated with a Stiles body. A doctor from Harley Street in London had made the purchase. Appleton has even tracked down and spoken to the original owner’s sister. He also discovered that the car went to Canada in the 1950s or 1960s, where it was at one time used for ice racing. The rare Magna then took up residency in a Canadian-Scotsman’s barn-garage, and began its quarter-century wait for a walker with a keen eye.

Racing again

Asked what he plans to do with the car, Appleton says, “Keep it, definitely.” He will take it to shows, enjoy it on the roads, and then pass it on to his children.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. Wade Treadway

    No better person to stumble on this rare MG than Malcolm Appleton.

    Like 2
  2. Rick

    How old is this article? Are there any updates on the progress made? I’d love to see photos of it in that sky blue metallic!

    Like 1
    • Kman

      Yeah, are there any photos of the finished car in the metallic blue?

      Like 1
      • Malcolm Appleton

        this is it finished at this weekends Arizona Concours d’Elegance where it took Best in Class in the Pre War Sports and Racing Cars Class.

        Like 1
    • barbara stratton- appleton

      send me your email addy…just won another first at the Arizona Concours and will send you a pic. car is lovely and there was so much interest in it. Best, B

      Like 1
  3. Sunbeamdon

    Kind’a an ugly little bugger – well worth reading this story and about all the other great finds. The Scotsman did his job!

    Like 1
  4. DolphinMember

    This unique MG has a terrific story, and it seems to be with the exact right owner now, so it’s hard to think of a better outcome for this rare car. And who among us has seen an overhead cam MG lately?

    The part of this MG story that I like the most as a sales transaction is the fact that the Canadian seller interviewed buyers and rejected the flippers. You had to qualify, in MG knowledge terms, to qualify to buy the car. I don’t think that happens often enough these days, but it makes this story all the better.

    Like 1
  5. jim s

    i also would like an update with pictures on the car. a great find and story.

    Like 1
  6. geomechs geomechsMember

    Definitely a story with a happy ending. I would also like to see how the car is progressing.

    Like 1
  7. Koolpenguin

    Found a few pics of the car after restoration here:

    Like 1
  8. Rick

    I know it said the original color was metallic blue, but I wasn’t expecting this, but I’d take it. :)

    Like 1
  9. Cameron Bater UK

    What a lovely story, I hope she finds her way back to England later in her life but otherwise I hope that she stays “as is” as is possible – Definitely something that should be enjoyed not stored (Or certainly outside of the 1 week in summer when it is actually good weather in England) :)
    I hope it brings Appleton plenty of pleasure (whatever tense that may be in) and let it be known if he or his family do decide to come to England with the car then they would have a very sterotypicly British name “The Appletons” :)

    Like 1
    • Malcolm Appleton

      Hi, Appleton is a genuine Brit name – I was born in Harrogate Yorkshire, came to the US for 2 years and never returned having settled in Vermont. Attached pic is from this weekend in Scottsdale Arizona at the Arizona Concours d’Elegance where it won Best in Class in the Pre War Sports and Racing Car Class.

      The car has been admired in many Shows since I finished it in Spring 2014

      The car took over 12 years to restore – they are all the original colors according to the Stiles Sales brochure which were all verified during the restoration process.

      Like 1
      • Jesse JesseStaff

        Thanks for the update Malcom! What a beautiful vehicle. If you send in more photos and information about the restoration process we would love to run a feature on it!

        Like 1
      • phillip smith

        I’m slowly working on F1125.
        I saw what appeared to be a Stiles body under construction in a shop in NH a number of years ago – the timing is about right – so I’m guess I saw your car. Would you mind sharing the name of your body builder? I will need help with mine (no, not a Stiles. An ordinary 4 seater.).
        thank you
        Phil Smith

        Like 1
  10. Cameron Bater UK

    Did the wheels have to be redone?

    Like 1
  11. Carroll F. Cook

    Malcolm showed the car at the Saratoga Invitational at the Saratoga Automobile Museum on May 17th. It is beautiful in its original blue and cream. Wow! It won an award, of course. Photos should be available on the Museum’s website.

    Like 1
    • Malcolm Appleton

      It won the “Dennis Gage ” Special award. Dennis from the TV Show “My Classic Car” was the honored guest at this Concours. He selected this 1932 MG Magna with the Stiles Special Threesome body as his favorite car in the Concours – Yipee

      Like 1
  12. Rick

    Is that an MG color?

    Like 1
  13. Malcolm appleton

    The Stiles Company of London who produced these cars had their own colors which were all metallic – I have a copy of their Sales Brochure. This color scheme is listed as Ocean blue metallic with beige wheels brake drums belt line and this chassis was also painted beige.

    The original owner was a Dr Frankis Tilney Evans who gave the car to his wife Viola as a gift for birthday on May 2nd 1932 – so I think the color choice was more of a feminine choice instead of thr popular colors of metallic grey, silver, blue or red.

    This info came from their daughter who presently resides in London and is also a doctor.
    It’s such a handsome color scheme I am so glad I found them as being original during its restoration.

    I now know all the previous owners including the fellow who brought it over to Canada in the late 50s


    Like 1
  14. Cathelijne Spoelstra

    Hello Malcolm,

    Are you saying that ALL Stiles F-types had metallic paint?

    Many thanks!

    Like 1

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